Coral reefs are the planet’s most diverse marine ecosystem, with the highest standing biomass, and the most species of fishes. Coral reefs are crucial to tropical ocean functions and to the human populations utilising the natural resources in these regions. Yet many of these complex ecosystems are threatened by impacts ranging from losses of essential habitats, to extinction risks for marine species. Furthermore, the long term effects of anthropogenic impacts, including global climate change exacerbate these stresses to the marine environment. The degradation of coral reef communities and their subsequent rates of recovery are important early-warning indicators of local and global marine ecosystem health. The need for long-term monitoring of coral reefs in a relatively natural state, to establish benchmarks for measuring changes and recovery in impacted reef systems, has been recognised, but there are few anthropogenically unaltered sites to study. Aldabra Atoll is one such site.

The Aldabra Marine Programme was established following the discovery of the extensive damage to the coral reef ecosystem at Aldbara Atoll caused by the 1998 Indian Ocean coral-bleaching event. There was growing concern throughout the coral reef scientific community that coral reefs worldwide were being altered at increasing and unprecedented levels due to increasing seawater temperatures. Determining the recovery dynamics of coral reefs altered by natural disturbances is a long-term process. It can be complicated, prolonged, or rendered impossible, in systems already stressed by anthropogenic sources. Studies at Aldabra would provide benchmarks in the recovery process free from these disturbances, against which anthropogenic impacts of other coral reef systems could be assessed, and rates of recovery evaluated

The Aldabra Marine Programme was formed in 1999 with a primary goal to establish the first permanent underwater survey sites for long-term, quantitative studies at Aldabra. Many studies of the effects of coral bleaching had documented the collapse of reef structure and degradation of the reef into algal-dominated systems, with the concomitant changes in reef fishes. The AMP studies would determine the ability of coral reef systems to replenish lost coral populations, reinstate framework growth, and recover reef habitat structural complexity and reef fish communities.

A further goal of AMP was to provide information for the development of a marine-conservation programme for Aldabra to enhance the protection and preservation of the atoll’s marine resources. The AMP is also committed to training Seychellois rangers in marine survey techniques . AMP studies are conducted to fulfil the marine management priorities of the Seychelles Islands. The research findings at Aldabra are dissmeinated to national, regional, and global initiatives. The AMP studies also contribute to a growing and valuable information database on global climate change and the environment.

AMP surveys at Aldabra have now been conducted in November 1999 and February 2001 and 2002. Reports are available online (See links and downloads section). In February 2002 three new permanent monitoring sites were established at two other islands in the Aldabra group, Assomption and Astove, and St. Pierre in the Farquhar group. These locations, all east of Aldabra, are exposed to increasing levels of anthropogenic stress and will hopefully yield valuable insights into the value of Aldabra’s protected status.